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AVA’s fine young bohemians

Helen Corning Warden Theater
02/07/2015 -  & February 10*, 12, 14, 17, 19, 2015
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
Maria Costa-Jackson (Mimì), Karen Barraza (Musetta), MacKenzie Whitney (Rodolfo), Jared Bybee (Marcello), Micahel Adams (Schaunard), Anthony Schneider (Colline), Nathan Milholin (Benoit/Alcindor), Alasdair Kent (Parpignol)
Academy of Vocal Orchestra and Chorus, Christofer Macatsoris (conductor)
David Gately (director)

J. Bybee & K. Barraza (Courtesy of AVA)

One of the main pleasures of attending productions at The Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA)’ chateau-sized Helen Warden Corning Theater is that you are in the direct zone of the fine AVA orchestra. And when Christofer Macatsoris is conducting Italian repertoire, it is the opportunity to hear well-worn repertoire anew, not to mention witness him engage with mold artists in Puccini’s La bohème.

AVA has staged it many times and several current opera of stars got their bohème chops singing at AVA. Aylin Perez and Steven Costello, just to mention two. It isn’t a stretch to see that among the casts rotating the parts for the current run, many will be playing these fine young Parisian "Bohemians" on opera stages everywhere.

For now, Rodolfo and Marcello’s grotto on Christmas Eve has never looked more painterly, dingier or romantic in Peter Harrison‘s set that flips handily to the vibrant colors of Café Momus. Moments before when Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard head off to carouse and Rodolfo stays behind to write avant poetry, suddenly Mimì appears. What could be more romantic? Their awkward sung dialogue about keys and candles; they are demure with each other.

Tenor Mackenzie Whitney as Rodolfo and soprano Maria Costa-Jackson as Mimì also have formidable vocal chemistry throughout and with the instant chemistry that has them fall in love instantly. Costa-Jackson with luminous moments, as she rises from a chair, her shawl dropping off her to sing "Mi Chiamano, Mimì"with such dramatic immediacy. The orchestra was a bit overpowering for Whitney in the crescendo of "Che gelida manima" which had him powering through upper range air pockets, but by Act II, he was solid the rest of the way out.

So much of La bohème is balanced on the merits of a strong Musetta and Marcello, the second couple that give voice to other aspects of romance. It is hard to beat the sparring duets of soprano Karen Barraza and baritone Jared Bybee, both second year AVA resident artists, and both bringing so much to these mature roles.

Barraza walks with such control and ease of opera’s most well-known arias with complete command, and imprint, singing "Quando m’ vo" to the throng at Momus, after she ditches her rich old man, she has her first duet with Bybee and their vocal chemistry is engulfing and intoxicating as a fine Bordeaux. When Barraza shoves Bybee away from her and sings, “I hate it when lovers act like husbands.” you believe her. Later, when she doubles down on both her flirtatious capricious nature and her kindnesses to Mimì, she shows full range as a singer and actor.

Director David Gately gives La bohème's famous scenes fluid, unfussy naturalism. Solid performances by bass Anthony Schneider and baritone Michael Adams as Schaunard and Colline. The men’s quartets' exemplar of Macatsoris’ igniting Puccini’s musical precision and the singers’ interpretive flare. Among the outstanding soloists in the orchestra, Ed Shultz’s haunting flute, Sophia Bruno poetic harp fields, and Igor Szwec flawless violin leads.

Lewis Whittington



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